Wright and Hope’s Billion Dollar Whale

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

 

 

Kind of a business tell all book, but in the end more a book about hubris, greed, and insane spending sprees. This is a book about Jho Low, an overweight soft-spoken Malaysian who would, with the help of various Goldman Sachs bankers and shady government officials steal billions of dollars from Malaysia and live a life of excessive spending that was obscene even by the standards of the new rich.

I generally enjoy business tell all books that involve a lot of complicated accounting, insider trading, or calculated business risks, but this one, like Bad Blood is just about fraud and theft. Indeed, what Low did is even more simplistic, really, than what Theranos was trying to pull off as chronicled in Bad Blood.

He very simply stole the money. How he stole it is moderately interesting, but not all that complex. What he did with it was unbelievable. Incredibly lavish parties, casino free for alls, super yachts, fine art, models, and, incredibly, the financing of the Wolf of Wall street.

This is a quick read and entertaining enough if you want a glimpse of how the very very richest live. But all in all a surprising vapid story for such a big heist.

Recommended for the Enthusiast.

Carreyrou’s Bad Blood

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies In a Silicon Valley Start Up
John Carreyrou

I have a real soft spot for the genre I call “Business Tell-Alls”. Books on rouge billionaires, hostel take overs, accounting scandals, I’m here for it all. And having read many, many of these books I can say with some authority that Bad Blood presents perhaps the most incredible story to date of misrepresentation, fraud and lies on massive scale.

You probably know the basics, but Bad Blood tells the story of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. Theranos claimed to be a bio-tech start up that was revolutionize the way blood tests were done. In reality, it was an elaborate shell game that bilked investors our of tens of millions of dollars, all while using intimidation and threats of legal action, to keep critics and disgruntled employees silent.

It’s a truly incredible story. Never before have I read about a company that was this big, while also being a total fraud. Even Bernie Madoff made money, just not enough.

I can’t say enough about how incredible this story is. If you enjoy a nonfiction page turner of any sort, you’re going to enjoy this one. Read it before it gets filmed and seem very well informed at cocktail parties.

Recommended.

John Carreyrou

 

Review Kolhatkar’s Black Edge: nside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street
Sheelah Kolhatkar

High brow business tell all gossip about the rise and (kinda) fall of one of the most successful hedge managers of all time, Steve Cohen of SAC Capital.

Cohen, if you don’t know, ran the legendary SAC Capital where traders were relentlessly encouraged to find “edge” i.e. information that the market didn’t have, or didn’t understand, allowing Cohen to have an advantage. Many of these traders, and the analysts who supported their work began to engage in insider trading, which was, many believed, blessed and encouraged by Cohen. When it all started to come down, a number of SAC traders and analysts went to jail, but not Cohen. He closed SAC, but kept the billion-dollar art collection and multiple mansions. The reasons why are complex, but largely have to do with money. Specifically, the piles and piles of it Cohen had. All the details are here.

Written by a New Yorker staff writer, this has everything you need – incredible sourcing, both inside the government and the hedge fund world; clear explanations of the financial shenanigans going on here; completely fascinating characters you love to hate; and writing that, while at times a bit rushed, is largely top notch. Even though I don’t work in the world of finance, my world, and that one, overlap enough for me to be fascinated. I devoured this one. If you’ve an interest in how some financiers get very very rich and why its so hard for the government to prosecute them, this is well worth the read.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Lewis’s the Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Michael Lewis

It took the movie coming out for me to finally read this great book on the guys who figured out the subprime crash before the subprime crash. I’m not sure why I didn’t read this earlier, I’m a fan of both Michael Lewis and books skewering the financial industry. But here we are.

Anyway, a great read, as always Lewis finds the compelling characters and gives them the space to tell their stories. Here, the characters are millionaire hedge fund guys betting against the U.S. economy. Yet still I found myself rooting for them, perhaps because they are the type of people we all want to be – unpersuaded by the crowd, they went with what made sense to them and made a ton of money. Hell, some of them even have pangs of doubt about how it all went down. As always with Lewis, it’s fascinating stuff told well.

Recommended.

Review: Eichenwald’s the Informant

The Informant: A True Story

Kurt Eichenwald
I don’t want to say too much about this, because if you read it, you should really get the surprised as they come along. Let’s just say it is about a major price fixing scandal that brought down a bunch of powerful people at the powerful Archer Daniels Midland Company. At first, you think the book is going to be a straight ahead “gotcha cheaters!” tell all, but quickly it becomes clear that the work is functioning as both a trashy business book (a genre which I love) and also an investigation into who is an informant, what that means, and how law enforcement handles crimes based on the betrayal of co-conspirators.

Eichenwald is one of my favorite business writers. He also wrote Conspiracy of Fool where he did an excellent job of sorting out the insanity that was Enron’s accounting. Currently he is writing a series of pieces about child pornography for the New York Times, which are excellent, but I find them exceedingly hard to read*. They have troubled him so much, apparently, that he has entered counseling.

Anyway, the Informant is, as one friend put it, a “corker”. If you’re into business dudes behaving badly. If that holds no interest, than neither will the Informant.
Recommended for the Enthusiast.

*ed note. The child porn series would end up being a bit of an undoing for Eichenwald. I didn’t know that when I wrote this.

Review: Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools

Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story

Kurt Eichenwald

Eichenwald is one of the best business writers around. Here, he gives the definitive account of what happened at Enron. The accounting explanations here can get a little hairy (because what was going inside Enron’s accounting was pretty bizarre) but it is still a fascinating read. I don’t know what is more bizarre, that these dudes thought they could get away with what was basically an elaborate shell game, or that they did get away with an elaborate shell game for so long.

If you’re into business books, this is a must read.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Lowenstein’s When Genius Failed

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

Roger Lowenstein

The death of Longterm Capital Management (LTCM) is one of the biggest collapses in modern financial history. So big, the Fed stepped in and made a number of major banks pony up serious dough to cover LTCMs loses so that the world financial markets didn’t tank. This book is the story of the very smart dudes (multiple noble prize winners, and a bunch of Phds) who made the classic finance mistake of thinking that markets would behave as the models said they would. Well, turns out, markets don’t always do what they’re told, and if your leveraged to the tune of billions of dollars, you can get yourself in a world of trouble when things go south.

Does this all sound familiar? Yeah, it does. But LTCM wasn’t part of the 08 crisis, it was ten years earlier. Did we learn anything? Apparently not.

This is a fast read and actually pretty educational if you want to get a sense of how the highly quantitative hedge funds work. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a business book geek like me.

Recommended for the enthusiast.